Well, as you are reading this, it probably is still pretty cold out. No better time than now to begin to think about the coming Autocross (AutoX) season. You need to start getting your car ready for the season so you are ready for our 2012 season. We know that there are a number of you out there that are sitting on the sidelines, thinking about AutoXing, but are a bit apprehensive. Read this primer, come to an event or two, ask for an Instructor and give it a shot – you will have a blast.
In the most basic sense, AutoX is a test of driver skill. As you take your runs at each event, your car control skills are evolving and improving. Precision and speed are the fundamental skills being tested and developed. Scoring is based on the time it takes you to drive a defined course. Your individual time is compared to other cars in your same car class and the day’s winners are determined by whoever has the best time in their class. More on classes later, but classes are the way to ensure a level playing field; if you are driving a 944 or a Miata, you would not want your time compared to a GT3, right? Penalties are assessed for knocking over cones or knocking them out of the chalk marked box. AutoX events are held in a nice safe and controlled environment – empty parking lots. Our courses are designed to allow for a competitive event but not too tortuous so as to make it too difficult (especially in the beginning of the season). You drive at varying speeds as you navigate the course and speeds are generally below highway speeds.
So, you have decided to join us – now what?Signing up: Go onto Motorsprortsreg.com and sign up for an NNJR-PCA AutoX event. Alternatively, you can show up the day of the event and sign up on the spot. In either case you will pay at the event. When signing up, you need to pick a car class and a car number. On the NNJR-PCA web site in the AutoX section, there is a tab that describes the car Classifications. Not to worry if you cannot figure it out. Just come to the event and we will make sure you end up in the right class.
Before the Event: Basic car preparation the day before is very simple. Take all the extra “stuff” you have in the car and leave it home. You can bring all your prized positions to the event but you will have to empty your car of any loose stuff at the event before we will let you run. Safety is #1. Bring a plastic garbage bag to keep your stuff together and dry if it rains. Check out your car manufacture’s recommended tire pressure and then put an extra 2-3 extra pounds of air in your tires (we will explain this in a later article). Pack some food, something to drink (no alcoholic beverages), a hat, some sunscreen and a chair if you desire. If you own a helmet, great, bring it. If not, we have loaners at each event. Bring your car numbers or a roll of painters tape so you can make your own. Get a good night sleep and look forward to meeting a bunch of great people and having a blast.
At the event: Arrive (usually by 8:00 am) and find a place to park in the “paddock” (Racers name for a place to park). Come on over to the Registration Desk (usually opens at 8:30 am) and sign the Liability Waiver and sign in. Basically the Waiver states that anyone signing it understands that there is some risk associated with the event. No biggie. You will then move along the Registration desk and pay the entry fee. If you signed up on Motorsportsreg.com, we will check off your name and you can then move on to the Work Assignment station. If you decided to wait until the day of the event, you will need to fill out a very short Registration chit. Every participant at the event is expected to help out at the event and will receive a work assignment. More about this at the Driver Meeting but not to worry, the assignments are easy and also give you a chance to watch other participants drive which can be very helpful (and entertaining).
Head back to your car, empty it out of all loose stuff and place your car number on both sides of your car. Nice big numbers please, so timing and scoring can see your number. If you do not have a pre-assigned/selected number (Motorsportsreg.com), not to worry, we will assign you a number for the day at Registration. We also have blue painters tape available so you can make up some numbers. Someone will come by and Inspect your car and leave a small blue tape on you headlight to indicate you have passed the safety inspection. If it is time to drive and you do not have a piece of blue tape on your headlight, not to worry, come back to the desk and we will take care of you.
Walking the Course: At some point in the morning before the event starts, you will hear an announcement “…….. The course is now open for walking……..” Please wait for this announcement before venturing out on the course. Walking the course is critical. We do not have practice runs and this is the only way to learn this event’s course before you drive it. Once you walk it, walk it again. Do not worry if this is your first event and you really don’t know what you are looking at or what to look for. At each event we have a Rookie Walk where one of our veterans or Instructors will walk the bunch of you through the course while describing what is going on, what to look for and how to drive the course.
Drivers Meeting: At every event, we have an all driver stand up meeting. We go over the rules, talk about safety, etc… and give you a chance to ask questions.
Time to Drive: Generally if you are not driving you are working. If we have enough participants, your work assignment will be minimized. Typically we run all the even numbered cars together, generally for 4-5 runs, while the odd numbered drivers work. Then the odd numbered cars run while the even numbered drivers work. We then switch again and you get 4-5 more ruins and then work once more. You get the idea. We will announce whether evens or odds drive first at each event. If you are to drive, you then go to your car and slowly drive to the grid/staging area. Not to worry, just follow the rest of the cars – we line up in no particular order. If this is your first time driving, or any time for that matter, ask for an Instructor. We have them milling about at the start line and they will jump in your car and ride with you. Even the most experienced drivers have an Instructor in the car from time to time. We are all still learning this sport and sometimes we develop bad habits that somehow creep in. When it is your turn, you will drive up to the start line and then you will be instructed when to start by the Starter. When you start you will pass through a set of timing lights. At the end of the course you will pass through the finish line timing lights. Your time is then indicated on a light board in the finish area. Head back to the grid/staging area and park where directed. Get out of your car, stretch your legs but stay near your car so you are ready for your next run.
End of the Event: Hey, you made it through your first AutoX – congratulations!! Don’t leave yet – you need to stick around for the trophies. All car classes, including Rookie Classes, get awards. Once we are done with the awards and closing remarks, please help us collect and stack up the cones. Pack your car up and then drive home with a whole new level of confidence in your car control skills – you will feel this way – I assure you.